Police move in to seize £10m criminal assets
NEARLY £10 million in cash and assets built up by drug dealers and other criminals are set to be seized following a police crackdown on serious crime in the Lothians.
The assets have been identified since April as belonging to members of the 35 organised crime gangs which police believe are operating in the force area.
Detectives have also arrested 34 people described as having "significant roles" in these organisations, and seized 13kg of Class A drugs with a street value of nearly 1.6m.
The results of the six-month blitz were announced as police chiefs today revealed their new strategy to tackle serious organised crime networks in the Lothians.
Five officers are set to be recruited to pursue the financial assets of gangsters after it received a 500,000 share of funding seized from other criminals.
Police chiefs said the move was part of a bigger focus on "hitting criminals in the pocket" by seizing more of their ill-gotten gains, as well as hunting down money laundering operations using forensic accountants.
Criminals running "legitimate" businesses, such as private hire car firms and security businesses, will also be targeted as part of the new approach.
Police will share intelligence with bodies, such as the Edinburgh Cab Office, which can revoke private hire licences, and with public and private organisations to ensure they do not hire security with criminal ties.
The initiative will also see the force launch an education campaign to persuade the public not to buy counterfeit DVDs, computer programmes and other fake merchandise.
It will coincide with operations against counterfeiting gangs, including sellers who peddle the goods in pubs and other locations in the Capital.
Lothian and Borders Police are the first force in Scotland to unveil a fresh strategy to target organised crime in response to the findings of the Scottish Government's Serious Organised Crime Taskforce. The launch by Chief Constable David Strang and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill was due to take place today at St Leonard's police station.
A report by the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA), published earlier this year, pinpointed 35 serious organised crime gangs active in the Lothian and Borders area.
Six of these were included in the top 20 gangs, out of 367 identified nationally, which were judged to pose the greatest threat.
Detective Chief Superintendent Malcolm Graham, head of the force's CID division, said: "We are launching this strategy today but the work has already begun.
"The national mapping project which was carried out earlier this year increased our knowledge of the 35 organised crime groups which were identified as impacting on our area."
Since April detectives have sent reports to the Crown Office identifying 9.8m of criminal assets, which can now be seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
As well as the arrests and drug seizures, 136,000 in cash was also confiscated during the police swoops on dozens of gangsters.
Det Chief Supt Graham added: "No longer will serious and organised crime be seen solely as the responsibility of CID and our law enforcement partners who operate on a national level. Now routinely, front-line officers will be doing their bit to disrupt and detect the activities of the serious organised crime groups.
"There is no doubt some elements of this work is specialised, but the best intelligence often comes from the officers on the street and the general public.
"The crime groups are motivated by their thirst for profit and power, and use threats of violence to achieve their goals.
"The vast majority will have links to the drugs trade but in the Lothian and Borders area they are known to diversify into human trafficking, sexual exploitation, money laundering, fraud, firearms, and counterfeit goods.
"Many people are unaware of the link between the things they buy, such as counterfeit goods, and the dangerous criminal networks they fund. We will work in partnership to change attitudes and reduce the demand for drugs, counterfeit goods and other products sold by serious organised crime groups."
Some of the crime gangs operating in the Lothians are primarily based outside the area, and officers will work with other forces to combat them.
Chief Constable Strang said: "Serious organised crime is a force priority. It is core business and as such is the focus of every individual within the organisation who will be alert to it as they go about their daily business."
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "I welcome the strategy being launched today which highlights the importance of getting everyone involved in the battle against serious organised crime.
"We are committed to protecting hard-working Scots in legitimate businesses from being undermined by the proceeds of criminal gangs."
Among ongoing police investigations into organised crime is the hunt for an alleged extortion gang. They are wanted in connection with a series of baseball bat attacks on the homes of Lothian businessmen in a bid to make them give up claims on money or property.
HITTING CRIMINALS IN THE POCKET
MORE than 3 million in cash and assets, including houses and luxury cars, has already been seized from criminals in the Lothians in the last six years. Bank accounts, insurance policies and property are among items that have been confiscated.
Among those who have been targeted are:
The 25-year-old was jailed for 17 years in April following a police operation against a ten-strong gang.
McGovern, of Little Road, Gracemount, who was convicted of dealing heroin, also admitted firing shots at The Gauntlet Bar in Broomhouse during a feud with a rival dealer.
A jet ski and a Range Rover are among the assets that the authorities plan to seize, as well as cash, properties and other items of value, even down to designer clothes.
Investigators believe Halliday, 29, still has substantial assets from leading one of the Capital's biggest cocaine dealing gangs after being jailed for seven years last summer.
He lived in Trinity, and drove a Mercedes, treated his girlfriend to extravagant gifts such as a car and holidays in the Maldives.
He was caught following a operation against cocaine dealers in the Lothians, which netted 300,000 of the drug.
George 'Dode' Buchanan
Buchanan was ordered to pay out 200,000 under the Proceeds of Crime Act after a judge last year ruled he was "a dealer in controlled drugs" who profited from the illegal trade.
The money came from the sale of his house in Gilberstoun, Brunstane, and his Range Rover, Mercedes, Mini Cooper and Ford Focus.
Buchanan was jailed for 12 years in 1987 for being involved in one of the city's biggest heroin hauls, and served eight years.
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